More on meta-methodology ('Beyond-Cynefin' series)

(This series of posts explores alternate uses of the Simple/ Complicated / Complex / Chaotic categorisation originally described in the Cynefin diagram. This discussion is not about the formal Cynefin Framework; for details on the Cynefin framework proper, please contact Cognitive Edge. The term ‘beyond-Cynefin’ is solely a placeholder to indicate this separation of concerns.)

Back to theory again – apologies… – following on from comments on the previous posts, especially ‘On meta-methodology‘.

The aim of this post is to try to create a bit more clarity around the notion of ‘problem-space’ versus ‘solution-space’. To do this, I’ll draw on a variety of sources, ranging from dowsing to enterprise-architecture, Sigurd Rinde‘s work on ‘barely-repeatable processes’, activity/response-models such as OODA and PDCA, and much more besides.

Will again be long, hence more after the ‘Read more…’ link.

Two key criticisms came up on the previous post on meta-methodology, as you’ll see in the comments. One was from Sally Bean:

One thing that does slightly jar with me in this particular posting, and elsewhere, is the use of the words problem and solution, which both suggest bounded spaces, when the reality is often much fuzzier, especially in the unordered domains. I strongly share the views that David Gurteen expressed in this recent comment on his website. http://www.gurteen.com/gurteen/gurteen.nsf/id/no-solutions. And of course, Ackoff used to talk about messes, rather than problems.

The other was from Paul Jansen:

I would like to ‘add a dimension’ (if you like) that I feel(!) is an intrinsic part of the quest at hand (meta-methodology). I speak of the relationship between the ‘interventionist’ and ‘the subject’. As it is with the inter effecting aspects of diagnosis and intervention, so it is at least equally true for the ‘performing artist’ and ‘his subject’ for either diagnosis or intervention. As the quote goes: “we find mostly what we look for”, and this is very true, it must be that the ‘consultant’ starts to effect the object of his attention immediately, a process which is part of what we should call ‘meta-context’.
[T]hat thought … has been lingering for some time now since a great deal of the interchanges so far seem to imply ‘no relationship whatsoever’ between the person doing the diagnosing and interventions and his ‘object’ of these.

To summarise, these are about the dangers of any purported separation between ‘problem’ and ‘solution‘, and between ‘subject/object’ and ‘observer’.

What I’m suggesting, I suppose, is that yes, those separations are artificial, but we do need them in order to able to respond appropriately within a given context (hence my re-framing of ‘responsibility’ as ‘response-ability’).

In essence, this is like the now fairly old physics-problem of “Is light waves or particles?”. The short answer is “Yes, therefore no”, which isn’t very helpful.  :-) In a science, this kind of inherent uncertainty can be a serious problem; but n a technology, we can choose to view light as waves, or as particles. Even though the two views are inherently incompatible at the quantum-level, both views are functionally ‘true’, therefore potentially useful: to use the physics-terminology of the time (Heisenberg? Schrodinger?), we “collapse the wave-function” according to perceived need. In other words, we use an artificial separation – though we do need to know and remember that the separation is not actually real.

John Boyd’s OODA (Observe / Orient / Decide / Act) model is useful here. The first phase is to observe what we see as ‘reality’. The catch here, as Paul Jansen implies above, is what I’ve elsewhere termed ‘Gooch’s Paradox’, after the psychologist Stan Gooch: “things have not only to be seen to be believed, but also have to be believed to be seen’. The result is that much of ‘observe / orient’ is an iterative process in itself, driven in part by culture, as John Boyd also notes, in a quote in the Wikipedia article on OODA:

The second O, orientation – as the repository of our genetic heritage, cultural tradition, and previous experiences – is the most important part of the O-O-D-A loop since it shapes the way we observe, the way we decide, the way we act.

This is one key reason why it’s important to provide a multiplicity of ‘views’ into the same nominal space. Some of these views will conflict – and the resulting ‘confusion’ should help to force us to observe more closely, not just the context, but also ourselves as part of that context. To use that previous terminology, we create a space within ourselves to prevent the ‘wave-function’ from collapsing prematurely.

So to adapt Shawn Callahan‘s excellent video-summary of Cynefin, we could see the first stage of interpreting the ‘problem-space’ (i.e. ‘reality’) as a quick assessment of how cause/effect seems to work within the context:

Assessing repeatability

And so on, with other views into ‘reality’, and how we perceive that ‘reality’. The process of interpreting ‘problem-space’ and deciding on an appropriate response takes place in what I’ve termed ‘solution-space’ – in other words, the ‘Decide’ phase of the OODA loop, or, to use that physics terminology, the period whilst we hold the wave-function ‘uncollapsed’. All of the various cross-maps I’ve described in the previous posts [see the list of links at the end of this post] are tools that we might use within ‘solution-space’. Overall, some of the key factors that I see in play within ‘solution-space’ can be summarised in yet another cross-map:

Time, interpretation and abstraction

Some of the choices we have are driven by the amount of time available before we have to commit to a decision (and subsequent action). The closer we get to real-time, the fewer options we have to reflect, experiment and analyse – which means, in effect, that we’re all but forced to choose between Chaotic or Simple. And if we’re not able to accept ‘chaos’ for what it is, we end up trying to ‘take control’ of something that, by definition, cannot be controlled. Which is not a good idea…

(This is the core of my disagreement with Dave Snowden and others around Cynefin: they’ve done amazing work on bringing the Complex domain closer towards real-time, but to me it still doesn’t seem to make any real use of the Chaotic domain in its own terms. Instead, as Shawn explains in the video, almost the only tactic offered is to ‘take immediate action’ to force it into another domain – which, in the real-time context, would necessarily push us toward the potentially-dangerous over-simplifications of the Simple domain.)

Another key point here is that every possible view of ‘reality’ – the ‘problem-space’ – is an abstraction. (One everyday example is that digital sound-recording is an abstraction of analogue – and there’s always some loss of potentially-important information within that process of abstraction. A long-established adage in systems-thinking is that the only complete model of a system is the system itself: everything else is an abstraction.) The Simple domain provides the most obvious extremes of abstraction; yet although the Chaotic domain is much closer to ‘reality’ in that sense, it’s still necessarily an abstraction of some kind.

In that sense, there can never be a perfect alignment between ‘problem-space’ and ‘solution-space’ when we ‘collapse the wave-function’ in the decision immediately before action (and, recursively, in the decisions we take n the nested OODA loops within that action). In short, we never get it right. :-)

The aim of recursive models such as OODA and PDCA is to allow us to iterate closer towards the ‘unachievable ideal’, either within the action (as in OODA) or over a series of actions (as in PDCA). What I’m aiming to do with this notion of ‘solution-space’ is to provide a perhaps-better map of what actually happens within  those loops – in other words, to provide a means to map out the ‘orient / decide’ pathways.

Real complexity occurs whenever ’cause’ and ‘effect’ are interdependent – as they are in virtually every ecosystem – and/or whenever we touch a social context – frequently leading to ‘wicked problems‘.  It seems to me that the ‘mid-range’ of such complexity is already well-served  by tools such as Cynefin and the PDCA cycle; yet as with classic physics, those techniques seem to become less useful or usable as we move towards the far extremes:

  • the ‘very small‘: a ‘quantum event’ of a single person applying a skill to a single (if sometimes nominally ongoing) real-world event – such as in dowsing, or in Sigurd Rinde’s concept of ‘barely-repeatable process’
  • the ‘very large‘: a ‘cosmology’ of an entire conceptual ecosystem – such as in a whole-of-enterprise architecture that applies to the full lifecycle of an enterprise

The ‘run-away-to-another-domain’ tactic implicit here in Cynefin pushes us towards the Simple domain in both of these cases – either as overly-simplified real-time ‘rules’, or excessive large-scale abstractions. So how can we instead hold back against the inherent ‘panic’, and work with the inherent uncertainties of the Chaotic domain? That’s what I’m after here.

The set of ‘disciplines‘ that we described in ‘Disciplines of Dowsing‘ (pp.31-70 in the e-book version) provide one such summary for a specific class of Chaotic-domain skills (i.e. for use in inherently non-repeatable real-time contexts). As I’ve described in earlier posts, I’m also working similar sets for other contexts such as subjective-archaeology, but there’s a lot more that could be done in mainstream business with those same principles – such as sales, or maintenance, or anywhere else that has a high degree of non-repeatability. (Anyone who’s interested in working with me on this, please let me know! :-) )

Right now I’m working more at the ‘very-large’ scale, such as whole-of-enterprise architecture – as documented in some of my books, such as ‘Doing Enterprise Architecture‘ and ‘The Service-Oriented Enterprise‘. The challenge there is not so much about rapid response (as it is in real-time skills) but in the sheer scale and scope of the contexts that need to be included, from the very small – individual details of individual processes – to the very large – interactions with an entire market and milieu over many decades.

In both cases it seems to me that the most important requirement is empathy – in other words, engagement with the context as itself and in its own terms, whilst also maintaining a clear sense of ‘self’ so as to be able to move around within the ‘problem-space’ and ‘solution-space’ before ‘collapsing the wave-function’ to make practical, real-world decisions. To keep it closer to the Chaotic domain of ‘solution-space’, we need to emphasise the ‘values’ end of the ‘truth/values’ decision-making spectrum. Perhaps paradoxically, cross-maps such as those I’ve described in the previous posts seem to help at both of those two extremes of scale, by providing recursive real-time checklists for rapid decision-making, yet also with an inherent breadth and depth of scope that enables a naturally holistic overview of the entirety of a context.

That’s where I’ve come to so far with this, anyway. As usual, any constructive comments, ideas and suggestions would be most welcome :-) – over to you on that?

Previous posts in this series:

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Posted in Business, Complexity / Structure, Enterprise architecture, Futures, Knowledge
5 comments on “More on meta-methodology ('Beyond-Cynefin' series)
  1. Dave Snowden says:

    As has been pointed out to you several times, there are a range of interventions both within the Chaos domain, and those which use controlled entry and exit. I’m not sure if you are doing justice to Shawn’s description by the way. However if he does restrict action to taking immediate action he is wrong. Even when such action is necessary the recommendation is shift to the complex not the simple domain.

    Aside from noting a continued obstinacy on your part to listen when a falsehood is pointed out if it doesn’t fit your vision, I still await you finding a name for your theories that would remove the need for the absurd opening sentence you have placed in each of these posts.

  2. Tom G says:

    Dave – I did explicitly state that “to me” there did not seem to be any specific methods – this is an opinion based in my own work and my own context, not yours. To describe my views on a context which is not yours as a ‘falsehood’ is to miss the point.

    One of the points that I made – evidently not clearly enough – is that there is a timescale factor involved here. As time for response is compressed towards real-time or the scale is expanded towards the ‘cosmology’ level, the options to move towards the complex (experimentation etc) or complicated (analysis etc) become less available. I did note the important work you’ve been doing in extending the complex-domain closer towards real-time, yet almost by definition it cannot _be_ real-time. This compression forces us towards an increasingly limited range of options across the chaotic-simple axis – in the terms that I have been using, which may not the same as yours.

    I accept your valid complaint on the last point, but as several people have pointed out, it is unfortunately still too early to allocate a distinct name. I had hoped to use ‘solution-space’, but there are clear objections to that, as you’ll see in the comments. I assure that I am doing as much as I can to resolve this, as I’m well aware that it is a continuing point of annoyance for you. It does, however, result from your use of a generic set of terms to describe a single fairly narrow context.

  3. Dave Snowden says:

    If you only want to make statements based on your own work and context then there is little point in spending time responding to you. Your statement that the Cynefin approach only has an exit option from Chaos is false, and you continue to propagate a falsehood and your statement above indicates it is deliberate not accidental. Shame …

    Plenty of people use terms like Simple, Complex etc and I make no claim to them. In your case you not just using that language, you are also are taking the model representation and name. I see no sign of you making any attempt to distinguish your work. Sorry Tom, you dissemble. If you had any confidence you would announce a model, describe its origins and inspiration and allow you ideas to stand or fall on their own merits. As it is you are trying to piggy back on other people’s reputation and work. Your final sentence is even more absurd that normal.

    As long as I am responding here I hold out some hope that you will honour your previous undertaking. When I ignore you then you will know I have lost all respect for you.

  4. Tom G says:

    @Dave – “If you only want to make statements based on your own work and context then there is little point in spending time responding to you.”

    To be frank, I would greatly appreciate if you stopped ‘responding’ here.

    I asked for constructive feedback on what I freely admitted was experimental work. Yet to date I haven’t seen you once actually engage with anything I’ve said, other than to accuse me of being a liar, a thief and guilty of gross professional misconduct (an actionable libel in each case, by the way), and to assert, loudly and repeatedly, that what I am describing, _explicitly separate from the Cynefin-proper context_, is ‘wrong’, without ever giving any evidence as to why.

    @Dave – “I see no sign of you making any attempt to distinguish your work.”

    I am sorry, but that assertion is blatantly absurd, as would be obvious if you actually read the header which I placed with some care at the start of each post, or for that matter read any part of the text. As you do in fact know, my work in this field long pre-dates Cynefin. The _only_ aspect of Cynefin that I have used in these posts since you first complained has been the layout of the original Cynefin diagram, because it is a useful base-map _which you have explicitly placed in the public-domain_: _everything_ else has been my own work, in terms of building cross-references to others’ work, which in every case has been formally acknowledged.

    @Dave – “If you had any confidence you would announce a model, describe its origins and inspiration and allow you ideas to stand or fall on their own merits. As it is you are trying to piggy back on other people’s reputation and work.”

    I cannot “announce” a model when it is in the relatively early stages of development, in full view for everyone to see. As for “piggy back on other people’s work”, that has been so in every science, technology and other discipline since long before Newton’s phrase about ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’, and explicitly applies to your own work as much as it does to mine. You appear not to have noticed that I have quoted the sources for every cross-map described here, and distinguished those in each case from my interpretation of how they fit together – which interpretation has _not_ been done before, and therefore in that sense is ‘my’ work (if such a possessive term could ever be said to be meaningful in a collective, collaborative context). You may also not have noticed that I have in fact presented a conceptual framework around the concept of ‘problem-space’ and ‘solution-space’, which various other people have been kind enough to critique. That does still have a long way to go before it is fully usable, but it is beginning to take definite shape as a model in its own right. Its _only_ connection to Cynefin is that many of the cross-maps use the background-part of the public-domain Cynefin diagram as a base-map, fully credited in each case.

    This conversation originally started some years ago with various colleagues who were discussing ‘Cynefin’ in the terms described here – incorrectly, as it turns out, as you’ve vociferously indicated here. Simply because many people _are_ using the ‘Cynefin’ term in that incorrect sense, I’ve used the label ‘beyond-Cynefin’ to make it clear that is _not_ about Cynefin, and that we _do_ need to make clear that separation of concerns. I took some care to _not_ use ‘post-Cynefin’, for example, as that would imply a pejorative, which it certainly should not: as I’ve said repeatedly in these posts, Cynefin-proper is entirely distinct, with a fundamentally different role from that which I’ve been trying to describe here.

    Distinct from that, I believe I am entitled to a professional opinion about what Cynefin-proper in its present form will cover. My opinion is this: In the sense of the terms ‘Chaotic’ and ‘Complex’ that I have described in considerable detail here – in essence, centred around repeatability – I have indeed seen impressive evidence that Cynefin-proper provides valuable techniques and tactics within the Complex domain, and on the Complex/Chaotic border; but I have not yet seen evidence that Cynefin-proper provides techniques and tactics which operate _within_ ‘Chaotic’ space. That is my opinion, _based on the information that I have available to me at present_; the only information I have to the contrary is your assertion that I am ‘wrong’, but referring to materials to which I do not have access, and under the circumstances I would be unwise to do so. My opinion may be incorrect or invalid in your terms, but it makes no sense to describe it as a “falsehood”, and I see no reason as to why it so important to you to describe it as such.

    @Dave – “When I ignore you then you will know I have lost all respect for you.”

    I will have to say that I have not yet experienced anything in any response from you that I could describe as ‘respect’, so the point seems somewhat moot? :-(

    If you _do_ have anything _constructive_ to say, that would help us to fully separate these two very different concerns that have become unfortunately intertwined though historical accident, please do so. But beyond that I do have to accept the advice from the old movie ‘War Games’, that “the only way to win is to not play”: I cannot and will not accept these endless, pointless, and for the most part utterly irrational attacks from you any further.

    Thank you.

  5. Dave Snowden says:

    I wrote a long response to your detailed ABC comments which you completely ignored, to be that indicates that you are not interested in discourse, but simply want endorsement.

    I think that is a pity as there would be an interesting debate to be had, but its your call.

    You have continued to make a false assertion despite the error being pointed out (including reference to published material). I have not made endless comments, I left it a week to give you time to sort yourself out.

    You have failed to follow through on an earlier undertaking to provide a different name, and follow normal professional standards in the use of other people’s material.

    Given that I withdrew comments about you behaviour based on those assurances, consider them now reinstated. Many other people have taken the Cynefin framework and produced different interpretations, modifications and developments. Its a pity that you are unable or unwilling to follow normal standards.

    I will as requested make no further comment here.

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